No Write-off

Eddie Gormley

You write Eddie Gormley off at your peril.

On the pitch, he may either score the winning goal against you, or leave your midfield feeling as if they had been participant observers at a stampede – with the latter, admittedly, the more usual outcome.

Off the field of play, he’s as unassuming, even diffident, as he is assertive and unstoppable on it.

Now in his sixteenth season as a League football player, he might just as easily not have kept up the game at all after his Under-18 year – and in a year when many of his contemporaries are already watching rather than playing, he’s been on the scoresheet for Bray ... times already.

Eddie grew up in Mackintosh Park as the middle child of a seven-strong brood, mostly boys, though there’s a younger sister.

He introduces some of them: “David played a few seasons with Luton, but Stephen, he was the eldest, he was supposed to be the best of us and he broke his leg in three places just before he was supposed to go on trial with Watford.”

“A typical football family,” he summarises, emphasising the point by going on to describe his own football pedigree, which consists of just one club from Under-8 to Under-18, St Josephs Boys.

He mentions Paul Cullen, later also with Bray, as one of his colleagues in that year, which wasn’t one of the more high-profile Joes vintages – “though we were usually there or thereabouts,” he says in their defence.

As a consequence, one presumes, there was no great anticipation of a starring role in top-flight football.

“I’d never had any of the approaches other people talks about, and I probably wouldn’t have played any more after that AUL Premier season. I might not even have stayed in the game,” he says, “if Pat Devlin hadn’t invited me out to Bray to see how I got on.”

It was Bray’s third season in the (expanded) League of Ireland, and the original squad was still largely intact – but a good manager is always on the prowl for the future talent. The Wanderers boss could hardly have thought, though, that his good deed wouldn’t pay off for nearly thirteen years!

A few weeks later, a trial at Liverpool beckoned, and they showed interest in a signing – but Eddie didn’t. “I really hadn’t enjoyed myself there,” he explains, but one suspects a deeper and far simpler explanation: as the only Manchester United supporter in a houseful of ’Pool fans, how could he hold his head up if ...?

However, it wasn’t long before a second, more successful trial saw terms offered by Tottenham Hotspur, and less than three months after moving to Bray, the teenager was off to a career that hadn’t even seemed on the cards earlier that summer.

Three years at White Hart Lane was, he says, an excellent learning experience and a great opportunity. “You had the best of coaches and professional facilities. It has certainly stood me in good stead.”

But by the end of that period, despite regular appearances with the Spurs Reserves, and First-team lineouts for such fixtures as testimonials and friendlies, he had failed to make a breakthrough. Eddie felt the relationship had probably runs its course.

“I’d have got stale if it had gone on any longer,” he says, and the offer of a one-year contract renewal on identical terms seemed to indicate little prospect of first-team football. So it was turned down, and he left Tottenham a free agent.

“I came home for the summer, but I was no sooner home than the phone was hopping, with managers wanting to know what my plans were!” The result was what can only be described as a Grand Tour or a sort of Royal progress: “I had about a dozen clubs to see, so I started in the North of England and I was working my way down towards London.”

When he reached Doncaster, he met Billy Bremner, and the two seem to have hit it off fairly quickly. And that’s where he signed.

It was a strong side that season, streaking off in the early weeks to reach Christmas about 10 points clear, and should really have won promotion. But financial circumstances forced player sell-offs, and no doubt the ensuing morale decline saw them struggle to make the play-offs.

The club struggled the following years to stay mid-table – but they were among his best experiences. “Three years with Doncaster, and Player of the Year for the second and third. I played probably my best football ever there, and I got on well with everyone, the fans especially.”

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, there then followed a falling out which led to Eddie spending half a season at Drogheda (rescued from a difficult situation by Pat Devlin) technically on loan from the Donnies, until – finally released – he met Brian Kerr and moved to Richmond Park.

He himself says he had to spend six months at that stage getting fit, or as he put it “looking like a player again”, a task he felt he had accomplished in time for the start of the 1994/95 season.

“It was a good squad there, a great buzz and great supporters,” Eddie says fondly. An why would there not be a buzz, with the Saints in contention for the Championship they were to win three times in rapid succession immediately afterwards.

If Gormley had played his best football in Doncaster, he was to achieve his best results in Inchicore: three times Champions, the last the year Bray lifted the Cup, and three visits to European football.

Against Slovan Bratislava in the 1996 campaign, their home form deserted them after they took three away goals, but they held their heads up even after a 1-0 defeat in Dublin to lose 5-3 on aggregate.

Glasgow Celtic in 1998 was the one they felt they came closest to winning, taking a scoreless draw in the first leg at Celtic Park, but going down at home again.

And while Bray struggled against Grasshopper the following year, Pats were having a nightmare time in their Moldovan fixture.

“We destroyed them for the first twenty-five minutes or half an hour,” says Eddie, “but nothing went right after that. We lost Ian Gilzean temporarily with a broken nose, and while he was being treated Zimbru netted twice”, and that began the rout.

In both legs, the Irish team were left chasing the game, and were badly caught on the break. It was a poor return for all their efforts.

During the following season, Eddie came to the conclusion that “I would have been wasting my time staying there, given the differences of opinion between us.”

But his next move was perhaps unexpected: to join Bray after their rapid return to the Premier in 1999/2000.

“I was on holiday in Spain when I bumped into Pat Devlin, and he sorted my departure out with Pat Dolan when he got home.”

He was glad to leave Richmond Park on good terms with his colleagues – and especially the fans, who later gave him a goodnatured ovation at the Carlisle at the end of the 2000/01 season after his new team’s 4-1 win over the Saints.

“That year we really should have won the League, you know,” he says, pointing out the damage done to the Seagulls’ chances by taking only one point all season from Finn Harps, who wound up relegated: “That killed us”, he says.

He’s not too keen to talk about last year (he’s not alone in that!), but with everything that could go wrong going wrong then, he certainly seems well concentrated on improving things this year.

And if his scoring boots are on as they appear to be, he’ll play more than a supporting role in that.

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